It should be noted that a range of special procedures apart from the SR on Torture also referenced SOGI issues in their reports. These included the Special Rapporteurs/ Independent Experts in the areas of adequate housing, human rights defenders, violence against children, freedom of religion and peaceful assembly and association.
SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR ON THE RIGHT TO ADEQUATE HOUSING
The Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing in her report made a connection between marginalization on grounds of SOGI and homelessness. As she observed:
Discrimination is both a cause and a consequence of homelessness. Those who face discrimination on the grounds of race, ethnicity, place of origin, socioeconomic status, family status, gender, mental or physical disability, health condition, sexual orientation and/or gender identity and age are more likely to become homeless and, once homeless, experience additional discrimination.
What was significant in the analysis of the intersection of homelessness with the SOGI issue was that being LGBTI increased your vulnerability among the already vulnerable homeless population.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex young people are overrepresented in homeless populations in some countries and face additional stigmatization and social exclusion from their families and communities, and are more vulnerable to violence and more likely to be turned away from shelters.
The Report concluded that
Homelessness disproportionately affects particular groups, including women, young people, children, indigenous peoples, people with disabilities, migrants and refugees, the working poor, and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, each in different ways, but with common structural causes. These include: (a) the retreat by all levels of government from social protection and social housing and the privatization of services, infrastructure, housing and public space; (b) the abandonment of the social function of land and housing; (c) the failure to address growing inequalities in income, wealth and access to land and property; (d) the adoption of fiscal and development policies that support deregulation and real estate speculation and prevent the development of affordable housing options; and (e), in the face of urbanization, the marginalization and mistreatment of those who are most precariously housed in informal settlements, living in temporary overcrowded structures, without access to water, sanitation or other basic services and living under the constant threat of eviction.
International Lesbian and Gay Association, in a joint statement with Federatie van Nederlandse Verenigingen tot Integratie Van Homoseksualiteit – COC Nederland; The Swedish Federation of LGBT Rights, RFSL; and Allied Rainbow Communities International, thanked the Special Rapporteur for having drawn the attention of states to young lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons, who were shockingly overrepresented in homeless populations in some countries. LGBTI people, especially LGBTI youth and children, frequently face severe discrimination, physical and mental abuse and shame based on their sexual orientation, gender identity and expression or sex characteristics. These pressures may be strongest within both their families and schools. LGBTI individuals are sometimes excluded from family homes, disinherited, sent to psychiatric institutions, forced to marry, or subjected to attacks on their personal reputation. Intersex youth face specific challenges. States should take all measures necessary to eliminate all forms of discrimination and violence, which undermine LGBTI people`s full enjoyment of their human rights, and increase the likelihood of homelessness. States should also ensure the existence of shelters for homeless LGBTI persons, as well as to regulate and monitor youth shelters to protect and support LGBTI minors.
Leilani Farha, Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, concluded by saying that, policies themselves should include mechanisms that would benefit vulnerable groups. As for ensuring that housing policies were non-discriminatory, the economic and social situation should be recognized as a ground for discrimination. Regarding evictions, any eviction had to follow international standards. It was important not to discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons and to recognize them as a group that experienced discrimination.
SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR ON HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS
The Report by Michel Forst, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, conceptualized principles which would serve to guide policy and legislation aimed at protecting human rights defenders. Based on a recognition that human rights defenders in many parts of the world were at risk, the Report conceptualized protection of human rights defenders as encompassing not only ‘physical security alone, but should be understood as encompassing multiple dimensions, including economic security, political security, environmental security, digital security and psychosocial well-being.’
The Report stated that
The threats faced by defenders come in many guises (physical, psychological, economic and social) and may be conditioned by the interaction of multiple factors, including poor governance, absence of the rule of law, an upsurge in religious and political intolerance and fundamentalism, or tensions over development issues. Numerous actors (political, economic, religious, State or non-State) may be involved, by act or omission, in committing violations against defenders. The situation is made more volatile owing to an increase in repressive laws and regulations designed to delegitimize and criminalize human rights activities of defenders, including by restricting their funding or obstructing their activities with burdensome bureaucratic requirements tape. A number of counter-terrorism and security policies introduced by States have posed new challenges to defenders, including new restrictions on their individual freedoms and increasing the risks that they face.
In this difficult scenario SOGI defenders faced an even more challenging environment.
Some activists face greater and more specific risks than others. Defenders who challenge social and cultural norms, do not fit stereotypes and prescribed roles, or who challenge power structures in society – such as defenders of sexual orientation and gender identity rights, women defenders, and defenders working on the rights of minorities and indigenous people – are often stigmatized and subjected to threats and attacks from members of society because of who they are or what they do. Defenders in conflict zones and in occupied territories are also more vulnerable to continuous insecurity and threats. Protection practices must therefore be gender-sensitive and suited to the specific needs and situations of such defenders at risk.
One of the best practices documented by the Report includes the ‘formation of formal and informal networks that connect human rights defenders and supporters to each other.’ The Report notes that, ‘strong relationships allow rapid mobilization in times of crisis. Robust networks can mitigate the risks of surveillance, threats and attacks.’
However this strategy may be particularly challenging in the context of SOGI issues, as it may not be possible to form such networks. As the Report notes:
Some defenders work on issues that are political, culturally and socially sensitive – issues that other defenders within the same socio-political milieu might not support instinctively. Women defenders and defenders who work on sexual orientation and gender identity rights, for example, often struggle to have their rights recognized in certain contexts. It is important for defenders within the same context to understand and support one another, even if they focus on different rights.
In order for networks to remain inclusive, all networks should regularly assess the extent to which they connect to and support the work of marginalized, stigmatized and geographically isolated defenders.
The Report concludes by putting forth seven principles of which principle two and three are of particular significance from the SOGI point of view.
Principle 2: They should recognize that defenders are diverse; they come from different backgrounds, cultures and belief systems. From the outset, they may not self-identify or be identified by others as defenders.
Principle 3: They should recognize the significance of gender in the protection of defenders and apply an intersectionality approach to the assessment of risks and to the design of protection initiatives. They should also recognize that some defenders are at greater risk than others because of who they are and what they do.
During the interactive dialogue the following statements were made:
Slovenia said that it was unacceptable that defenders of lesbian, gay, transgender and intersex rights, rights of minorities and women human rights defenders still faced risks of being discriminated against and prosecuted.
Australia said that, human rights defenders play a particularly crucial role protecting vulnerable groups –including women and girls, religious minorities, LGBTI individuals, and people with disabilities. Australia welcomed the Special Rapporteur’s insights on how States can actively promote the work of these defenders.
Iran said that, while recognizing that human rights defenders are diverse, based on their different backgrounds, cultures and belief systems, this should not provide an authentic platform for giving special acknowledgment and legitimacy to specific groups which are not universally recognized, and labeled them as human rights defenders. Consequently, Iran called upon the Special Rapporteur to remain focused on the main idea behinds the mandate and avoid using controversial concepts such as sexual orientation and gender identity in his future reports.
Germany said that, looking at the state of human rights worldwide, the German Government is highly alarmed by the shrinking space for Human Rights Defenders. Germany was appalled by the suppression of and violence against inter alia journalists, online activists, human rights defenders in rural regions, indigenous or ethnic minorities, LGBTI activists and those standing up for the freedom of belief, the rights of women or the safeguard of their inherent economic, social and cultural rights.
Finland said that, as the situation of women human right defenders is often even more difficult, it is necessary to provide particularly active support to their work. In his report, the Special Rapporteur points to the fact that gender influences the risks and threats human right defenders face. Women human rights defenders also face discrimination more often on multiple grounds, for example in addition to their gender on the basis of their ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation.
Denmark said that, it welcomes the focus of the report on conceptualizing good practices in the protection of human rights defenders, including of those that face greater risks than others, such as women defenders, and defenders working on the rights of minorities, indigenous peoples and LGBTI persons.
The International Service for Human Rights observed that, the report mentions the important work of the African Commission to highlight the violations against defenders on the basis of their gender and/or their work in areas such as sexuality, reproductive health and women’s rights.
Action Canada observed that, the diversity of women human rights defenders, in particular, needs to be explored further, as women who do not fit the stereotypical definitions of “woman” are further marginalized by the denial of their existence, by the penalties they endure and for the use of their bodies. Action Canada referred to transgender women, women seeking abortions, sex works, women living with HIV, lesbian and bisexual women, as examples.
SPECIAL RAPPORTEURS ON PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY AND ASSOCIATION AND ON EXTRA JUDICIAL, SUMMARY OR ARBITRARY EXECUTIONS
Maina Kiai, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association and Christof Heyns the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial summary or arbitrary executions produced a joint report of ‘practical recommendations on the proper management of assemblies’.
The Report first sets out the question of why assemblies are important, particularly when it comes to the question of challenging dominant societal and state narratives.
Assemblies are also an instrument through which other social, economic, political, civil and cultural rights can be expressed, meaning they play a critical role in protecting and promoting a broad range of human rights. They can be instrumental in amplifying the voices of people who are marginalized or who present an alternative narrative to established political and economic interests. Assemblies present ways to engage not only with the State, but also with others who wield power in society, including corporations, religious, educational and cultural institutions, and with public opinion in general.
Quite clearly when it comes to the question of SOGI, since in many parts of the world, activists are seeking to challenge the dominant social narrative which has no space for LBGTI people, the right to peaceful assembly is crucial. However the groups which need this right the most are the ones who are most impeded from exercising this right.
As the Report notes:
Particular effort should be made to ensure equal and effective protection of the rights of groups or individuals who have historically experienced discrimination. This includes women, children and young people, persons with disabilities, non-nationals (including asylum seekers and refugees), members of ethnic and religious minorities, displaced persons, persons with albinism, indigenous peoples and individuals who have been discriminated against on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. This duty may require that authorities take additional measures to protect and facilitate the exercise of the right to freedom of assembly by such groups.
Maina Kiai, in the interactive dialogue reinforced this point by noting that, ‘On the question of lesbian, bisexual, gay, and transgender rights, the question had been raised that by mentioning that issue, the Rapporteurs were diluting the report. There had to be clarity that the people who needed the right to demonstrate the most were the people who were the most marginalized. The lesbian, bisexual, gay, and transgender community existed and if they could not organize, the international community was asking for trouble. Whether countries agreed with lesbian, bisexual, gay, and transgender rights or not, that community needed to be protected like any other community. “A right is something you have because you are,” he said, adding that if the State had to authorise rights, they turned into privileges.
SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR ON FREEDOM OF RELIGION
Heiner Bielefeldt, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, in his country visit to Bangladesh drew attention to the specific problem of the relationship of the right to freedom of religion to sexual minorities. He specifically referenced the transgender community in South Asia, the hijras in his observations
Transgender persons — biological males who identify as female — are also known as “hijras” in South Asia. They are usually accepted in their societies, including Bangladesh. However, by their difference, people reportedly believe that they own a different set of religious practices — quite similar to some Hindu rituals — developed just for their community. Indeed, many hijras actually participate in mainstream religious life, for instance, by attending the Friday prayer or participating in church services.
Mr. Bielefeldt’s report drew attention to this issue and raised the question of its importance
Freedom of religion or belief of persons belonging to sexual minorities is a very much underexplored issue that warrants more international attention. Diverse sexual orientations and gender identities are a reality in every society and not an invention imposed from abroad, as some may be inclined to think.
The only question is whether and how to recognize this reality. An opening-up in this regard helps to overcome prejudices and unsubstantiated anxieties, thus giving more breathing space to human beings who otherwise would be forced to conceal important aspects of their personal identity. The Special Rapporteur would like to stress that the right to freedom of religion or belief is guaranteed for every single human being, so no one should be deprived the right on the basis of sexuality, gender, ethnicity or caste.
SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR ON CULTURAL RIGHTS
Karima Bennoune, Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights in her first report, signposted the importance of guaranteeing cultural rights to all regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity.
The Special Rapporteur has been particularly disturbed by recent political discourses of exclusion, sometimes directed at entire religious or other groups. One of her key commitments is to promote the enjoyment of cultural rights without any discrimination, including that based on race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, migrant status, disability or poverty. Committed to integrate both disability and gender perspectives into her work as emphasized by the terms of her mandate, she will also give particular focus to the equal cultural rights of women. Moreover, she plans to pay close attention generally to the cultural rights of those at heightened risk of human rights violations due to group or other status.
In the interactive dialogue, COC Nederland noted that the celebration and enjoyment of cultural rights has the potential to transform hearts and minds in evanescing hatred and prejudice. Through grassroots activities like open youth mics, theatre presentations and music performances, we have witnessed fathers soften their hearts towards accepting their gay son, we have seen faith communities come together to fundraise for Syrian refugees, and we have built bridges for dialogue between contending collectivities. Artistic expressions, through technology, new media and various forms of art and music counter radical narratives, and for this reason, freedom of expression and freedom of conscience must be unequivocally championed. COC Nederlands voiced concern about the clampdown on cultural practices, including pride marches, threats towards female cultural performers and the intentional destruction of cultural heritage sites like Palmyra.
For further information on HRC31:
Arvind Narrain | Geneva Director
Kim Vance | Executive Director
All documents referenced in this Report can be found here.